Saturday, February 20, 2016

Murder on the Half Shell (A Red Carpet Catering Mystery #2)

Author:  Shawn Reilly Simmons
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781943390649; 9781943390618
Henery Press
230 Pages
$31.95; $15.95; $2.99 Amazon
February 23. 2016
Five Stars

Filming a movie on a sunny Florida beach may seem like working in paradise, but dealing with the brutal heat, a difficult director and a leading lady with a serious aversion to seafood makes for a challenging task for Penelope Sutherland and her Red Carpet Catering crew.  After two girls go missing during a raucous beach party thrown by the movie's director, the cast and crew fall out of favor with the Andrea Island locals.  When a flashy celebrity chef is accused of the crime, Penelope Sutherland steps in to help her former culinary school instructor find the truth.  Surrounded by suspicious locals with a history all their own, Penelope uncovers clues from the past that reveal an undercurrent of evil amid the magnificent sandy beaches.


Penelope Sutherland, chef and owner of Red Carpet Catering, is on location in Andrea Island, Florida with her best friend and housemate, Arlena Madison where Arlena is filming a movie with a temperamental director and a cast and crew of over 100 people; needless to say, she's kept busy throughout - so busy that she has hired local teens to help out when they can:  Regan, a young man who is helping the kitchen staff, and two girls, Rebekkah and Sabina, as waitresses.

Shane, the director, has arranged a beach party one Friday night after shooting for the week was finished.  Penelope was pleasantly surprised to learn that the caterer was none other than one of her culinary school instructors, Emilio Babineau, owner of Craw Daddy's a New Orleans restaurant; and that he is also planning on opening one of his restaurants on the island.  It turns out that Emilio had left the school under clouded circumstances concerning two of his students, but since then has managed to become quite successful.

The night of the party Penelope sees Regan with a beer in his hand, and since he is not yet twenty-one, tells him that he can't be drinking; he profusely apologizes.  She speaks with the teen girls and they tell her that they are staying over at one's home, and leaves them to enjoy their evening.  Feeling responsible, she asks her sous chef Francis to keep an eye on them.

Before the weekend is over, it is learned that Rebekkah and Sabina are missing, and they were last seen in Emilio's company.  What makes it worse is that Rebekkah's purse is found in Emilio's truck, and he seems to have no idea how it got there.  Then the girls are found - in critical shape - locked in the building which is to be Emilio's new restaurant, which makes him the chief suspect.

Then Penelope couldn't be more surprised when her boyfriend, Homicide detective Joey Baglioni, shows up.  It turns out he had some vacation time coming, and decided to use it to visit her.  She's both pleased and grateful he's there, but still worried about Emilio, wondering if what supposedly occurred in culinary school could be repeating itself...

This is the second book in the series, the first being Murder on a Silver Platter, and I will say that this one does not disappoint.  I find the characters both believable and engaging, without a 'true villain' among them (one gets tired of finding someone to hate right off the bat, which isn't too say there aren't those that are just not likable at all).  They are three-dimensional and in this book I found that Joey isn't quite your usual homicide detective.  You can tell, by small snippets only, that he thinks he might have a rival in Max, Arlena's brother, and doesn't like it one bit even though he's not saying it aloud to Penelope.  That makes him not quite sure of himself, but quite human in nature.  Penelope, I am glad to say, is still the smart and independent woman she was in the first book, not caving to needing help from her boyfriend or anyone else, when she knows things need to be done.  But do not be fooled:  this is in no way a mystery woven into a romance; it is strictly the other way around - the romance is woven into the mystery, and in such a way that it is not primary, but enough that you want to know more as it progresses.  My only disappointment was that the delightful Randall Madison, father of Arlena, did not appear in this book too.  Well, you can't have everything!

  Once in a while an author will come along who has a fresh voice; one who can take a tired genre and make it seem new again.  Such is Ms. Simmons.  She manages, in both books, to create a mystery within a mystery, which isn't to say it will be a murder within a murder by any means; but rather two intriguing stories which tie in together to create one.  Quite unique, and quite refreshing.  She is a gratifying addition to the mystery genre and I heartily await the next in the series.  Highly recommended.


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